Guest Post: Karen Turk - Working in Time of Global Pandemic

Karen Turk and Hank

On March 8th, I left Detroit for Alternative Spring Break (ASB) at the Maryland State Archives. At the time, my plan was to return from ASB to the Reuther Library and finish my practicum by mid-April. I had my hesitations about traveling, but I put my concerns aside as the State Archives still seemed prepared to receive student workers. They had even put us on the Maryland Department of Budget and Management mailing list to keep us apprised of any COVID-19 news.

The week started in Annapolis and ended with an early flight home on Friday, March 13th. The Maryland State Archives closed to the public and announced that staff would be teleworking after Thursday. While my experience was instructive and positive, it felt strange to be isolated in a hotel room rather than exploring a new city, as the threat of COVID-19 materialized in Maryland and eventually, Michigan.

Upon returning to Detroit, I finished the few tasks related to the James Papers that I could online, did homework for my Description and Access class, and consumed as much news as I could regarding COVID-19 in Michigan. As the time drew closer for me to return to the Reuther Library, though, I felt the same hesitation I had before ASB. By March 20, however, Wayne State announced that all non-essential employees would be working from home. However, my next thoughts were: How am I going to get all my practicum hours in? What kind of work can archivists even do from home? Then I felt horribly guilty worrying about school when people are sick and dying and risking their lives so I can be healthy.

University Archivist Alison Stankrauff and Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Archivist Sarah Lebovitz turned the challenge of doing archival work from home into an opportunity by bringing me into a year-long trial to document Wayne State's web presence through Archive It. The Reuther Library preserves select websites in the domain to document the history of the University's activities and accomplishments.

Together, we initiated a quality assurance and metadata project related to Wayne State University's websites in Archive It. The captures are currently limited to the websites of the Board of Governors, Dean of Students, Academic Success Center's Learn Anywhere resources, and those documenting the University's response to the COVID-19 outbreak. We hope to ad more seeds (urls) in the coming weeks.

While Archive-It performs the capture of born-digital web-based material, it takes a critical human eye to perform quality assessment and assign the appropriate metadata. That’s where Graduate Student Assistant Jared Quist and I come in. The two of us review captures and decide what missing material should be patched in and what should be ignored. We also choose appropriate Library of Congress Subject Headings and input metadata for harvesting. By piloting these projects in Archive-It, we are providing the valuable feedback needed for a more expansive web archive and creating processes for future student workers to follow onsite or remotely, if necessary.

I hadn’t planned on writing another blog entry about my Ronald Raven Award practicum experience, but I wanted to share about how accommodating the staff of the Walter P. Reuther Library, Archives of Labor and Urban Affairs has been in helping their student workers succeed even in a time of crisis.

To say this semester has had its highs and lows is an understatement. Fortunately, working with the Reuther Library staff has been one of the highs. Their resourcefulness has enabled me to meet my graduation requirements and gain skills in web archiving. You can visit our first collection, Wayne State Universities Websites now!